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Child heart surgery suspended at Leeds General Infirmary

Decision comes hours after campaigners fighting to keep unit open win court battle
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Farah Ahmed

29th March 2013 - Children's heart surgery at a hospital in Leeds has been suspended just hours after campaigners fighting to keep the unit open won a key High Court legal battle.

Leeds General Infirmary says the decision is temporary pending an internal review into all aspects of congenital cardiac surgery involving youngsters.

NHS England has welcomed the decision and says it is important to ensure the unit is operating safely after concerns were raised about death rates.

Heart surgery for adults at the hospital is not affected.

NHS reorganisation

Leeds General Infirmary has been at the centre of a row about the future of children's heart surgery ever since the unit was earmarked for closure by the NHS. It followed a decision to reduce the number of child heart surgery centres to concentrate skills in a smaller number of specialised units in an attempt to raise standards.

Two other hospitals were affected: the Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and the Royal Brompton in London.

Court battle

In Leeds, the decision prompted a campaign by Save Our Surgery (SOS) to keep children's heart surgery in the city, with nearly 600,000 people signing a petition of support.

On Wednesday the High Court quashed the NHS plans and ruled that the consultation over changes to children's heart surgery in England and Wales was flawed.

Reports say the decision to suspend children's congenital heart surgery was made when concerns were raised about patients' care, including allegations the hospital was avoiding referring children for some treatment to another specialist unit in Newcastle.

Internal review

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust says it decided to suspend surgery after a meeting with senior representatives from NHS England and the Care Quality Commission and that an internal review, validated by outside experts, would now take place.

Its chief executive Maggie Boyle says in a statement "We have taken the decision to temporarily pause children’s congenital cardiac surgery and associated interventions while this review is conducted, a process we would aim to complete in around three weeks. We apologise to parents and families who will be affected during this time, and can assure them we always put the safety of our patients first.

"It is really important to us that the review is done as speedily and comprehensively as possible which, of course, we hope will show the services in Leeds to be safe. We are confident in the quality of the care provided by our staff and hope they will bear with us during this difficult time.

"Families whose surgery may be affected during this time are being contacted directly by the Trust."

Mortality figures

Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, described the decision to suspend surgery as "a highly responsible precautionary step". He adds: "Some questions have been raised by the Trust's own mortality data and by other information. It is important to understand that while this information raises questions, it does not give us answers. But it is absolutely right not to take any risks while these matters are being looked into.

"The priority must be the safety of children. I hope that Leeds will shortly be in a position to restart children's heart surgery secure in the knowledge that everything is okay."

Reviewed on March 29, 2013

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